by Tanya Temkin
Note: In honor of Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, FORCE is partnering with AstraZeneca to raise awareness of genetic testing for women who are diagnosed with ovarian cancer. FORCE volunteer Tanya Temkin shares her personal story of how genetic testing affected her treatment options.
Two and a half years ago, my friend Marcie drove me to my first appointment with a gynecologic oncologist, where we’d discuss my scan and biopsy results, diagnosis, and treatment plans. As she drove, she talked about promising treatments for advanced cancers. I listened politely but thought that I wouldn’t need any of that. I was sure that my cancer would be cured by my first-line treatment, after which I’d resume my normal life and consider cancer as part of my past.
The gynecologic oncologist told me that I had stage IV high-grade serous epithelial ovarian cancer. She recommended a courses of treatment. She also urged me to get genetic testing, about which I knew next to nothing. The next week, I talked with a genetic counselor who set up my BRCA testing.
The day after my first treatment the counselor called to tell me that I tested positive for a mutation in BRCA2. It was difficult to absorb the idea that an inherited mutation had led to my cancer, put me at risk of other cancers, was likely the cause of the breast and ovarian cancer that had struck a handful of women in my family, and that my relatives might be at risk. What I didn’t know then was that my BRCA status expanded my downstream treatment options.
My first-line treatment led to no evidence of disease (affectionately known as NED). By that time, I’d realized that my stage IV disease was likely to recur, and I started to plan for my future. I’d heard more about those new treatments that Marcie had mentioned.
When I recurred after 10 months, I was disappointed but not upset. I’d learned that I had treatment options based on my type of cancer and genetic status. I’ve been on a targeted-therapy for five months, and hope that I make it to six months and far beyond.
Given my BRCA2 mutation, it’s good to know that FORCE has a Hereditary Cancer Research Study Search Tool that I can use to find clinical trials that are enrolling women like me.
I’d advise any woman with advanced-stage ovarian cancer to get genetic testing soon after diagnosis, learn about current and developing treatments and learn how to search for clinical trials. I’d also recommend that she talk with her doctor about plans for maintenance therapy and treatment options down the line if she recurs.
Tanya is a native Chicagoan who’s lived in Berkeley, California, nearly all her adult life. Her life took an unexpected turn two years ago with an advanced-stage OVCA diagnosis out of the blue. When she’s not volunteering with FORCE and local projects, she can be found gardening, visiting with family and friends, and hiking through the countryside.